A commencement message to graduates: Happiness is not something to strive for. It’s a by-product, if you’re lucky, of living a valued life that’s balanced and full of meaning.
I know, it’s February and perhaps a little late to wish everyone a happy New Year. But we are already running at a fast pace to make this another memorable year, and wanted to let you know what is ahead in 2017.
First, let’s talk about the amazing growth we experienced in 2016. As you know, the mission of the Beck Institute is to promote excellence in CBT around the world. We accomplish this with workshops for individuals in Philadelphia and around the US, training for organizations around the world, and courses online. 2016 saw tremendous growth in each of these areas.
Here are some highlights:
- We launched our online programs, delivering over 2,000 courses to individuals in over 70 countries.
- We increased our work with organizations by 30%!
- We delivered our workshops On the Road in cities across the US, and on weekends, which meant less time missing work for attendees.
With 2017 underway, we expect another banner year. Here are a few of the exciting things we have planned:
- The launch of a new online course in CBT for Personality Disorders later in the year
- The new Applied Series of workshops which address incorporating mindfulness in CBT, CBT for individuals with medical conditions, and CBT for anger management.
- We will host a 4-day workshop on CBT for Depression and Anxiety for Spanish speakers in June
- We will launch a new workshop on CBT for Military and Veteran Suicide Prevention in July
- We will be back in Chicago and Nashville with On the Road workshops
- We have designed a comprehensive approach to improving CBT in systems through our Training for Organizations program, and are already offering it to organizations that want to improve mental health outcomes in their agencies
We established the Beck Institute over 20 years ago. In that time, we estimate that we’ve trained over 10,000 health and mental health professionals to improve their CBT skills. If those individuals had even 10 people on their caseload (and we know you have more), that is over 100,000 clients that have had the benefit of better therapeutic interventions. That’s what we’re about… better trained therapists mean more healthy people.
Could you take a few moments to complete our short, 3-question survey? It will help us design an array of training opportunities to suit your needs and the needs of professionals worldwide.
You (the therapist) need to use all the basic Rogerian counseling skills. In other words, you need to be a nice human being in the room with the client and treat every client the way you’d like to be treated. And of course, therapists need to work on their own negative reactions to clients.
- – Judith S, Beck, PhD
“Every minute in a session is precious, and we want to maximize the time we have to help clients learn to deal with the issues that are most important to them.”
Dr. Judith Beck
By Judith S. Beck, PhD,
President, Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy
Guilford Publications asked me to reflect on my reasons for writing Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond and Cognitive Therapy for Challenging Problems: What to Do When the Basics Don’t Work, both of which Guilford first published in 1995 and 2005, respectively. Below is what I sent:
I remember the moment I conceived of writing CBT: Basics and Beyond. It was in the early 1990’s and I was presenting a workshop with my father, Dr. Aaron Beck, in California. Most of the workshop participants were familiar with his work but asked very basic questions. Again and again, I found myself surprised by what they didn’t know (e.g., how to conceptualize patients according to the cognitive model, structure a session, set an agenda, use Socratic questioning, handle homework challenges, ask for feedback). I realized they needed a basic book that could teach them these skills in a step-by-step format, with transcripts illustrating key therapeutic interventions. I had lots of automatic thoughts when writing the book (“People will think this is too simplistic,”), for which I used CBT techniques on myself to keep going. The book is now the basic text used by most graduate schools in all the mental health disciplines, in the United States and abroad.
I also remember when I conceived of writing Cognitive Therapy for Challenging Problems: What to do When the Basics Don’t Work and it traces back to the first book. When I was writing CBT: Basics and Beyond, I had to continually separate material that was basic from material that was advanced–which made me realize that people would probably need a sequel to the basic text. I presented dozens and dozens of workshops on Cognitive Therapy for Challenging Patients and Cognitive Therapy for Personality Disorders in the years that followed. At each workshop, I asked participants to specify problems they had with some of their patients. (“What does the patient do or not do in session or between sessions that’s a problem? What does the patient say or not say that’s a problem?”) I soon had a very long list of problems. The challenge for me was in organizing the material I collected, and I had lots of false starts. It took me five years to determine how the book should best be structured. Once I figured this out, it took just another two years to complete the book.
I started off my career, not in psychology, but in education. Early on, I learned how to break down and explain complicated ideas and tasks for my young elementary school students who had learning disabilities. Through my books and workshops and other training activities, I believe I’ve been able to do the same for therapists who are learning and practicing CBT.
Today, July 18, 2016, is Dr. Aaron Beck’s 95th birthday. At last week’s workshop, participants celebrated by signing ‘Happy Birthday” and hearing stories from Dr. Beck.
We recommend beginning this video at 2:40
What do you think is important for a young CBT therapist or researcher to know about the history of CBT?
Aaron Beck has always started with clinical material first, working with clients and generating hypotheses about his observations. He tests his hypotheses, refines his theories, and bases treatment on these theories, continually testing and improving the validity of his theories and the efficacy of treatment. He continues to do so to this day, in his work with individuals with schizophrenia. Researchers should follow his lead, always treating clients to inform their work. And they should learn to treat clients outside of their specialty area, for example, clients with different ages, cultures, genders, diagnoses, and so on, so they can maintain a broad perspective.
What is in your opinion most exciting about CBT today?
There are many different directions the field is going in today, but I’ll just choose one, something that we’re heavily involved in at the Beck Institute: developing online training programs for therapists. So many mental health professionals throughout the world can’t afford existing training programs or can’t travel to attend workshops or conferences. With today’s technology, we can train many more mental health and health professionals in evidence-based treatments. So many more people, with a range of problems, can be helped.
Any predictions for the future? Will there be a place for CBT in the future?
Yes—and the treatment for certain disorders may look somewhat different from how it looks today, based on advances in research and technology. And I hope more people will adopt a different view of CBT. Many professionals believe that CBT is defined by its use of cognitive and behavioral strategies. But that’s too narrow a definition. CBT should be seen as a system of psychotherapy that is based on the cognitive model, not based on its use of certain techniques. In fact, with clients with personality disorders, we often adapt techniques from a range of psychotherapeutic modalities, used in the context of the cognitive model, such as strategies more commonly associated with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, Psychodynamic Psychotherapy, Interpersonal Psychotherapy, Positive Psychology, and a number of others. CBT will continue to be a major force in mental health treatment as long as research studies show equal or better outcomes for both treatment and relapse prevention.
Judith S. Beck, Ph.D. and Robert Hindman, Ph.D.
At our recent Core 2 CBT for Anxiety Disorders workshop, we asked participants what is helpful in managing anxiety? What is not helpful?
Individuals with anxiety disorders unwittingly maintain their conditions by their behavioral strategies and their beliefs.
Avoidance is a hallmark of anxiety. Sometimes the avoidance is blatant, when, for example, an agoraphobic client does not leave the house. But sometimes it is quite subtle. For example, one of our panic patients tightly gripped the steering wheel while driving. A client with obsessive compulsive disorder tries not to think about an idea which is unacceptable to her. One of our most recent clients with social anxiety avoids making eye contact and tries to control his shaking hands.
Worrying is also unhelpful for people with anxiety disorders. Sometimes clients believe that it is important for them to worry in order to prevent danger; however, worrying actually leads to their continually overestimating danger over time. Our anxious clients have beliefs such as, “The world is dangerous.” “I have to be on guard. I need to anticipate any problems that could possibly arise; otherwise I’d be irresponsible.” “If I worry, I can figure out exactly what I should do.” Then, when the predicted catastrophe doesn’t happen, instead of recognizing that it was not likely to occur, they tell themselves, “It was good that I worried about it or else it might have happened.”
Anxious clients also demand certainty. A client we saw this week told me, “I have to know for sure that nothing bad will happen.” But many outcomes in life are unpredictable, or can’t be predicted with absolute certainty. Assuming that certainty is possible and demanding that they obtain certainty keeps anxiety going. One dysfunctional strategy clients use to demand certainty is constant reassurance seeking. For example, a client frequently seeks reassurance from her husband that he still loves her and will never leave. Demanding certainty is also associated with her attempts to over-control herself, her husband and children, and even her co-workers. For instance, she’s constantly texting her husband and children to make certain they’re ok, and will keep on frantically texting them until she hears back.
Another habit anxious clients have is paying too much attention to their anxious thoughts. People without anxiety disorders often do an automatic reality check and/or engage in problem solving when they notice anxious thoughts. Or they dismiss them as “just thoughts” and refocus their attention back to the task at hand. When an anxiety disorder is present, though, clients focus on their anxious thoughts, treat them as “facts;” their anxiety increases, and they often engage in an unhelpful action (such as the thought suppression, worry, or reassurance seeking mentioned above).
Perfectionism is also sometimes involved in maintaining anxiety disorders. Another recent client of ours believed, “I should be perfect because if I’m not, I’m vulnerable to bad things happening. I should figure out the perfect solution to any problem. If things aren’t perfect, everything will fall apart.” The problem with perfectionism is that it’s impossible to be perfect. When our client doesn’t meet her perfect expectations, she doesn’t think it’s because her standards are unrealistic, but instead, takes it as more evidence that she’s vulnerable to bad things happening, which keeps her anxiety elevated over time.
Finally, clients with anxiety disorders have difficulty tolerating, much less accepting the experience of anxiety because they are “anxious about being anxious”. One client we mentioned above believed that anxiety was bad and that if she didn’t try to control it, it would get worse and worse until she just couldn’t stand it and would “lose control.” You can think of anxiety as energy for a challenge, so when you believe experiencing anxiety is a challenge, you end up getting an additional level of anxiety whenever it shows up.
Fortunately, a large body of literature now supports the efficacy of Cognitive Behavior Therapy in effectively treating anxiety disorders. And treatment has become even more effective in recent years as therapists have added mindfulness to their repertoire of techniques, helping clients label and accept the experience of anxiety and learning, not how to try to rid themselves of it, but how to move anxiety to the background as they focus on whatever valued activity they are engaged in at the moment.
By Judith S. Beck, Ph.D., and Francine R. Broder, Psy.D.
We’ve stopped using the word “homework” in CBT. Too many clients take exception to that term. It reminds them of the drudgery of assignments they had to do at home when they were at school. So in recent times, we’ve switched. “Homework” is now called the “Action Plan.”
We like the label “Action Plan.” It conveys a sense of proactivity, of taking control.
Action plans aren’t optional. They are very carefully created, in a collaborative fashion. Therapists emphasize that most of the work in getting better happens between sessions. A significant part of each session involves helping clients figure out what they need to do outside of the therapy office to feel better and regain a good level of functioning. We tell clients:
That’s why we make sure that whatever is important for the client to remember about the session, including their Action Plan, is recorded, written down or entered as text or audio into an electronic device.
How likely are you to do this assignment(s) this week?
And that’s why we continue talking about potential obstacles that could get in the way when clients say they are 90% or less likely to complete the Action Plan.
Here is an example of a client who did not do his action plan, and this is how we worked on it.
A 28-year-old came to treatment to work on reducing depression, social anxiety, and worry about his irritable bowel syndrome. During our session, he identified “getting into shape” as important to him and set up a specific action plan that included going to the gym he belonged to, two times during the week, for approximately 30 minutes. Upon returning the following week and checking in on how it went, he stated he did not go. When asked what got in his way, he stated he did not know. He was asked to go back to an earlier time in the week, imagine himself about to go to the gym, and to notice the thoughts that were going through his mind. Using imagery, he was able to identify his interfering thoughts. Next, we used Socratic questioning, summarizing his conclusions in a two-column thought record.
The Action Plan isn’t optional. A considerable body of evidence shows that clients who do homework have better outcomes than clients who do not. See, for example Conklin & Strunk (2015); Kazantzis, Deane, Ronan & L’Abate (2005). It’s up to therapists to help clients carefully design meaningful assignments with a good likelihood of success and to motivate clients to follow through. Finally, we used the two-column thought record to anticipate additional interfering thoughts that could get in the way of engaging in his action plan for the coming week.
Conklin, L. R., & Strunk, D. R. (January 01, 2015). A session-to-session examination of homework engagement in cognitive therapy for depression: Do patients experience immediate benefits?. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 72, 56-62.
Kazantzis, N., & L’Abate, L. (2006). Handbook of homework assignments in psychotherapy: Research, practice, and prevention. New York, NY: Springer.
Judith S. Beck, PhD
Worry, as defined by Clark and Beck (2012) is “a persistent, repetitive, and uncontrollable chain of thinking that mainly focuses on the uncertainty of some future negative or threatening outcome in which the person rehearses various problem-solving solutions but fails to reduce the heightened sense of uncertainty about the possible threat.”
This certainly describes the thinking of Stacy, a client I recently treated who suffered from Generalized Anxiety Disorder. She is a 44 year old woman, the mother of three children. And she worries constantly. “What if my boss doesn’t like my work?” “What if my kids get rejected at school?” “What if my husband falls in love with someone else?” “What if this cough I have is really throat cancer?” “What if the bus I’m on crashes?”
Some amount of worry is normal and can be productive when individuals think through a potential problem and come up with a way to prevent it, cope with it if it does arise, or lessen its impact. But Stacy’s worry is pervasive and unproductive. Why does she keep worrying when it’s clearly dysfunctional? Why does she have so little control over it? A number of factors account for why she worries so incessantly (while another client of mine, an adolescent, fails to worry in situations in which at least a little anxiety is warranted and would be productive).
Stacy’s safety behaviors include the following:
- She tries as hard as she can to predict problems. “If my boss could possibly be displeased with me, I should anticipate that and know how to respond.”
- She is constantly trying to gain certainty that a given difficulty won’t occur. “If I think through every option thoroughly, I’ll be able to avoid the problem.”
- She tries to figure out the optimal solution. “If I just keep thinking about it, maybe I can figure out the perfect thing to do.”
- She avoids situations she deems risky. “The weather is bad; I better cancel my doctor’s appointment because I might get into a car accident.”
- She tries to reassure herself and frequently asks for reassurance from others. “I can only feel better if I’m 100% sure that nothing bad will happen.”
Other contributing factors include the following:
- She catastrophizes, automatically considering only the worst outcomes of a situation. “If my child is late, maybe it means she’s been in an accident.”
- She misreads her physiological arousal. “I’m so on edge. There must be something bad going on.”
- She lacks confidence about her ability to handle problems. “I won’t be able to handle it if the problem does arise.”
- She holds positive beliefs about the worry process. “It’s good to worry because worrying can keep me safe.”
- She has negative beliefs about worry. “I can’t control my worry. There’s nothing I can do about it.” “I’m going to worry so much that I’ll go crazy!”
- She tries to stop worrying. But her attempt to suppress worry-related thoughts often rebounds and leads to more unwanted thoughts, which then triggers her positive worry beliefs and the worry process begins again.
- She doesn’t realize that, most of the time, she can’t solve a given problem and therefore feel relief—because the problem hasn’t happened yet.
- At the bottom of all this are her underlying negative beliefs about threat and uncertainty, and a sense of helplessness.
Rather than evaluating Stacy’s automatic thoughts (because successfully evaluating one worry-related automatic thought will often be replaced by another worry-related automatic thought), we focused on modifying her dysfunctional beliefs about worry itself (it helps me stay safe), reducing her safety behaviors (seeking reassurance) and attempts to control her worry (thought suppression), using functional problem solving when indicated, identifying when she was thinking catastrophically and mindfully refocusing her attention, facing her worst fear, and accepting and building her tolerance for uncertainty. Although she described having been “a worrier” her whole life, she was able to overcome her excessive worry. She gained a sense of competence and much improved peace of mind.
Clark, D., & Beck, A. (2012). The Anxiety and Worry Workbook: The Cognitive Behavioral Solution. New York: Guilford Press.
Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy is a leading international source for training, therapy, and resources in CBT.
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